Raptors with Cameras – Jurassic World (2015) Review

Jurassic World posterWhen did we start letting blockbusters off the hook so easily? When did we start expecting so little of them that we allowed studios to churn out generic sequel after generic sequel? When did we become so content as to replace enjoyment from originality with enjoyment from references to an older, better film? If one thing defines our cinematic era it is the power of nostalgia and our willingness as audiences to give into it with each passing franchise iteration. This power is rampant in Jurassic World, a gigantic and spectacular beast that worships at the altar of its first ancestor with an unsettling post-modern grin.

Mere seconds after practically breaking the fourth wall with her welcome to this new dino-park, confident operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) strides purposefully towards the camera, investors in tow, and states that “no-one is excited about dinosaurs any more”. This typifies the blatant self-awareness that pervades Jurassic World as it emerges as the fourth film in a series that has failed to dazzle audiences since its first outing way back in 1993. It’s a film that’s all too knowing of what it is; as a sequel, as a summer blockbuster, and as a money-making product. It’s also acutely aware of the problems it faces with its apparently jaded audience; going so far as to use them to set up the thin narrative and state them in dialogue time and again. But for all this seeming intelligence Jurassic World is surprisingly dumb, opting for more as the answer under the misapprehension that it equates to better. Someone forgot to tell the writers that you can’t just wink and state the problem – you have to come up with a creative solution.

As is clear from the title, things have moved on in the twenty-two years since the grand failure of the original attraction as a viable business. The ‘Park’ is now a ‘World’, jam-packed with visitors, rides, and more dinosaurs than you can shake a flare at. Plus a monorail, an aquatic section, a pyramid, and probably fifty separate Starbucks and McDonalds establishments (even if you can’t see them on screen). But audiences are bored to death of de-extinction and want something new, so not-a-mad-scientist Dr. Wu (B. D. Wong) cooks up the Indominus Rex using a ludicrously dangerous cocktail of DNA that gives it all the tools it needs to be the perfect prehistoric killing machine – adaptive camouflage, anyone? All the park staff, except the sage yet stoic Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), think this is a cracking idea and totally safe. Verizon even sponsor and present the I-Rex. But tradition must be adhered to and things go pear-shaped quicker than you can say “hubris” and we’re along for another prehistoric rampage.

Contrary to Claire’s earlier statement, the most exciting parts of Jurassic World are when the reptiles break free and stomp around devouring the guests. Where the original built suspense it barrels ahead with fast-paced action and whilst entertaining at times it subsequently fails to capture much of that unique blend of wonder and dread. Director Colin Trevorrow – with no more than one indie film under his belt – ably handles the carnage and it’s still fun to see dinosaurs chomping people (even if one character does meet with an uncomfortably drawn-out demise), but these highs are not lasting and seldom inspire awe, even when Giacchino kicks the John Williams score up to eleven and the camera sweeps elegantly across the vast expanse of the attraction.

Moments like these expose Jurassic World as a messy but safe creation, hamstrung by the considerable history behind it, never able to tell a convincing story because it’s too busy nodding at the previous films. The characters – once so strong with the likes of Malcolm, Sattler, and Grant – are barely given enough attention for us to root for them. In fact, in this outing the dinosaurs are given as much depth as the humans, severely reducing the fear factor they once possessed. Case in point – Owen’s pack of raptors with which he somehow communicates using plain old English and a clicking device, able to placate them with an outstretched palm.

The more one thinks about this and the rest of the film as a whole, the sillier and crucially duller it becomes – using dinosaurs for military applications has to be the height of ridiculousness, and don’t get me started on the out-of-the-blue conclusion. The film-makers have set about the task of reinvigorating the franchise with their pieced-together script in one hand and a giant Jurassic checklist in the other, and have judged the latter to be far more important than anything resembling narrative. So in the end that’s what we get with Jurassic World, a handsomely made pile of references that’s just bigger and more on the surface. It’s still raptors, but this time they’re tame…and they’ve got cameras.

Child confounds cynical cinephile. Future of film is fixed.

Having reached my quarter-life milestone I’ve become ever so aware of the growing cynicism that I have for the world, even for the parts of it that I adore. It’s all too easy to slip into the mindset and overlook so much of the good that still permeates our everyday lives when we’re not rolling our eyes or shaking our heads with worried disbelief. I have noticed it particularly in the way I view the world of film.

As someone striving to find my critical voice and hone it until it reaches something approaching a sincere and insightful level, I’ve had to operate with the accepted knowledge that my opinion is golden. Part of this comes from wanting to have proper convictions about films and to not abandon my own views in the wake of dissimilar professional opinion, and that’s a good thing to have. The down side of this however, is that you start to feel like you know a lot. You start to believe that you’ve become good at analysing films and passing judgement on whether they’re good, bad, or even worth the time. Maybe you’ll be right about a couple, but pressing on in this manner and not allowing creative works to settle and breathe means that you often only see a film in relation to the worth you assign to it from your own perspective, and rarely do you grasp the worth it may have to others.

Why am I starting this way? Because having seen the trailer for Dreamworks latest film, entitled Home, I had set in my mind that this was nothing more than a bit of animated flim-flam utterly devoid of any innovative spark for storytelling, and perhaps worst of all a vehicle for clunky pop-culture humour, the sort that is painfully recognisable as an adult trying to be ‘down with the kids’. I haven’t seen the film but frankly I have no desire to. The trailer just left me cold, and made me elevate Pixar’s Inside Out to saviour for animation in 2015.

All of this went out the window when I had a brief conversation with a young girl when I was cleaning the cinema after a screening of Home. She was waiting for her father to collect his belongings and so I asked her if she had enjoyed the film. She emphatically replied that she had, which naturally brought a smile to my face – if this kid enjoyed it then she’ll surely be open to other cinematic adventures, we’re off to a good start here. But what she said next really took me by surprise. I should add at this point that she was not in distress and was clearly in a cheerful mood. She told me that while she was no stranger to the cinema, this was the first time that she had cried at the end of a film.

I carried on cleaning but continued to think on her response a little later, and in a Grinch-like manner, the conclusion I got from it warmed my cynical heart quite a bit. As decreed by my obviously superior powers of discernment, Home is a film not worth the time, and when I finally get round to watching it my preconceptions might be spot on, but the very same film contains enough heartfelt emotion that it moved a young girl to tears, in the same way that certain scenes in Interstellar move me to tears.

Roger Ebert has been quoted as saying that, “the movies are like a machine that generates empathy” and I don’t think he could be more right. We all have our different tastes and different films will affect us in different ways, but it is so comforting to know that a film I may brush aside as uninspiring still has the power to move a child to tears. You could examine this in more detail but ultimately I feel it means one thing – Cinema is still important, and that is a very very good thing.

Hooray for films!